There’s an unusual trend going on with the DC Comics’ Bat Family. Longtime supporting characters Batgirl (Barbara Gordon) and Nightwing (the original Robin, Dick Grayson) are getting the “young adult” treatment. While DC’s New 52 started everyone off with grim and gritty tones, Batgirl and Nightwing have…evolved into young adult comics. As a huge fan of both characters, I’m not sure what to make of their new directions, so today’s column is me thinking out loud about the young adult-ing of Batgirl and Nightwing.
Let’s kick things off with Babs. In addition to getting a major costume overhaul, Batgirl is moving out of Gotham and into the trendy neighborhood of Burnside. If Gotham is the big city then Burnside is the Bat equivalent of Williamsburg or Park Slope. AV Club has a preview of the new Batgirl book and it reads like a superhero version of HBO’s Girls. Barbara has a new boy toy that she can’t remember hooking up with, she’s fetching obnoxious coffee drinks at a hip cafe, she has other young female characters to exchange banter with, and — oh yeah! — she still fights crime.
I’m going to give the book a fair chance, but it seems like a big step back for Batgirl. After getting shot and crippled by the Joker, Barbara became Oracle and served as central intelligence for many DC heroes. She was more powerful in a wheelchair than she ever was in spandex. The New 52 reboot mysteriously cured her paralysis, but made Batgirl a more kick-ass character than she was in the past. The tone of the upcoming Batgirl book seems more appropriate for Stephanie Brown than it does Barabara Gordon. My fear is that she’ll be portrayed as too much of a girly girl than the strong and capable hero she has been in the past.
Then there’s Dick Grayson. The former Robin and Nightwing has been starring in a new book titled Grayson. Most of the world thinks he’s dead, so he — under Batman’s instructions — is infiltrating a covert organization in a James Bond-like role. And like James Bond, Dick Grayson gets a lot of action. The last two issues of Grayson were fun romps that contained a heavy amount of romance. Grayson: Future’s End #1 — one of my favorite books all year — was a love story sprinkled with action. Grayson #3 borrowed heavily from Bond and had Dick sleep with a woman early in the book, only to see her die later.
Nightwing has always been one of the biggest man-whores in comics, but the heavy emphasis on romance in Grayson is a bit strange. As many of you know, Nightwing is one of my favorite comic-book characters and I’m not sure what to make of his new book. It’s still early, but it feels like a step back. Yeah, I understand that DC Comics wants to experiment and try new things in order to get new readers. And yeah, I understand that Nightwing is the perfect character to experiment with — he’s known, but not iconic like Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, etc. Having said that, I wish Dick Grayson would drop the spy schtick and go back to being a proper superhero.
In both cases, DC Comics has the potential to broaden its audience with the young adult direction of Batgirl and Grayson. In one case, I’m not really digging it, but will keep reading because I’m such a Nightwing fanboy. In the other case, I worry that the new Batgirl book will make the character a joke. Again, I understand the need to experiment with characters and reinvent them. The young adult book and movie markets are tremendous, so it makes sense to try to use that approach with comics. I just wish DC used it on two characters that I didn’t like as much as Batgirl and Nightwing.
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